Moving

30 05 2013

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Last year, my friend Layne and I both ordered “word of the year” bracelets from a small internet company. The word I chose: MOVE. As in so many areas of my life, I am late to the party, but I’ve finally arrived: I am in the midst of the disarray of packing, and one week from today I will be on the road.

While I have not been in this house for the entire nineteen years I’ve lived and worked in Cedar Rapids, the last time I moved my friends Sara and Amy were at my apartment the night before throwing things into boxes and sneaking items to the dumpster when I had my back turned. There was no careful culling through of my stuff, no separation of wheat from chaff. Consequently, the need to do so this time is significant. And slightly overwhelming.

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Throughout my small house, the rooms are in complete disarray. Nonsensical piles here and there have the look of unwanted detritus left behind in abandoned buildings. Nothing could be further from the truth – if it is still in the house it is wanted. Or I believe it will be wanted by someone, if not by me. I’ve picked some items to give as gifts: the Disney Trivial Pursuit game, the scented candles which would just melt in my storage unit this summer, the wrist guards I’ve already given to Eli and Abby Kohl (who immediately used them as part of their superhero garb). Others are too new-ish or too nice-ish to toss and will be donated to Goodwill. A huge tub of books are free game for any visitors or helpers who arrive to move my stuff to storage on Monday.

There is something about packing your belongings that feels like a reckoning – the process of calculating the worth of a life. When my house was together and things in place, it felt cozy, welcoming, homey. Each item had at least a small part in creating this impression. Taken apart, deconstructed, each component is judged on its own merit. Mostly, my things are humble and not worth much in a monetary sense. They start to look shabby and random when taken individually, wrapped in newsprint. Regarded as mere objects, my belongings don’t have anything special or grandiose to say about me or my life. I look at bare walls, studded with oddly spaced nails and picture hangers and begin to wonder if there was meaning in my having lived here or if my life has been as shabby and random as my things.

Luckily, those moments pass and I recognize them for what they are – a way to distance myself from the reality, the enormity, of the change in process. In the very moment I am about to become disconnected from myself to escape that reality, I find or pick up an object and memory comes flooding in – the pink depression glass water goblets that belonged to my grandmother; the charm against the evil eye that was my souvenir when Rosemary returned from Turkey; a faded newspaper  photo of my sister and her friends dressed as Jackie O. for an “art happening” in Iowa City. That’s when my accounting of my life’s worth shifts – when I remember that the value of these things lies in either their usefulness or, more importantly, the connection they offer to the people I love. By this reckoning, I am wealthy beyond measure.

Each time I finish packing a box in the chaos that is barely recognizable as my living room, I label it, put the lid on and carry it into the one room in the house that appears to contain order. Here there are stacks rather than piles. Things are hidden, but named. I walk in and immediately feel more calm about this move.

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When I can’t continue – either from the need to just sit down for a while, or from the desire to connect with others in the present moment (as opposed to the overwhelming connection to the past as I pack) I head for the dining room table. This is the one spot in which the present still reigns supreme in my house. Neither the past nor the limbo of “packed” have a hold here. I check Facebook, text Molly or Mike, think “I should clean this stuff up” knowing full well that I won’t until I have to.

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When my break is over and I head back to the grindstone, I stand for a moment staring at the remains – it seems as if so much has already been boxed up and made sterile by its placement in neatly labeled white cartons, yet there is still so much to do. I suddenly think of a time in the not-too-distant future when I will begin to reverse this process. The sterility of the packed cartons will give way to the mess of unpacking. And I can imagine my own joy in reuniting with these shabby things that, today, seem to have so little value. And I know full well that I will feel every bit as challenged, as overwhelmed, in that moment as I feel in this one. It makes me smile, and I suddenly think music is called for. I log into Pandora and find myself singing along with Imagine Dragons (“it’s time to begin, isn’t it?”) as I try to find a reasonable way to pack a three tiered dessert tray.

I am definitely, finally, moving.

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The Goodbye Girl

23 05 2013

In 1977, the movie “The Goodbye Girl” was released. The movie starred Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason, who mostly didn’t screw up the screenplay or Neil Simon’s characteristic fast-paced dialogue. To top it off, the movie’s theme song was written and performed by David Gates – that’s right, David Gates of the supergroup “Bread”. There was not a thing about the film (or the song) that my 16-year-old self didn’t love.

One of the reasons I loved the film so much was that I identified with the title: The Goodbye Girl. My family moved around – not a lot, but more frequently than most of the kids I knew, who had been going to the same school, with the same kids, since kindergarten. I saw myself as the girl who was forced to move on just about the time I got good and settled someplace. I was always saying goodbye, and it was usually permanent. In the movie, I didn’t really care for Marsha Mason, but I completely saw my jaded, highly defensive, young self in her character’s self-protective snarky-ness.

Given this self-concept, a song lyric that promised, “Goodbye doesn’t mean forever”  was pretty appealing. I can remember singing it with my friends, Pam and Steve, as we hiked back to our car one night in Cincinnati after attending an England Dan and John Ford Coley concert. This was just a couple of weeks prior to my family’s move from Ohio back to Iowa at the end of my junior year in high school. “The Goodbye Girl” lyrics were our promise to each other – “Goodbye doesn’t mean we’ll never be together again” – and it was our theme song from the day I told them of the impending move until the day I left town. I wanted it to be true, a promise I wouldn’t break. But in my heart, I suspected otherwise.

After returning to Iowa, I lived in Dubuque for seven years. Then Iowa City for nine. But even though there was continuity in the towns, I changed locations/homes and occupations frequently- college, graduate school and my first few professional positions meant a continuation of the goodbye theme. People were always coming and going in my life. I thought I was pretty good at goodbyes, and I maintained a certain stoicism through “goodbye” moments which I took as evidence of my skill.

What I didn’t understand until much later was that I wasn’t good at goodbye, I was actually good at never saying a truly open “hello”. After not letting anyone get too far under my skin, too close, when it came time to say goodbye, I could just let go. And I was really good at that.

Then I came here. Two years, the duration I originally signed on for, somehow became nineteen. And while there have been plenty of goodbyes – it is a college campus, after all: a fresh crop in each fall and a mature crop out each spring – there has been a great deal of stability, as well. Facebook, twitter, texting have all exploded during this time, impacting the ease and affordability of staying connected. I’ve changed in important ways, including intentionally opening myself to close relationships, even bringing some of those people I “just let go” of in the past back into my life.

All of which begs the question, as I prepare to leave, am I still The Goodbye Girl?

Of course, the first and most true answer is no. I never really have been. I’ve gotten it wrong in the past – refusing to get too close so goodbye won’t hurt isn’t a good or life-affirming coping skill. Burrowing in and creating a warm cocoon that I refuse to leave despite every part of me – head, heart, soul – urging me to move on isn’t a great approach either. And the truth is, I’ve been stuck in this warm, loving, cocoon for a long time: an incipient butterfly afraid to test my wings. Afraid that goodbye really does mean forever.

In the movie, Richard Dreyfuss’ character gets an acting job that requires him to leave to do a film on location. Marsha Mason’s character believes he is leaving her forever, and she tries, fiercely, to accept that and to stave off hurt. Then she discovers that he has left his prized possession (a guitar) behind – a sure sign that he will indeed return to her. Two weeks from today I expect to be on the road. I will have said my goodbyes to the campus, to the  women at Sister’s Health Club, to my colleagues and acquaintances. To my friends, to the families I am part of here, I will have made promises: to stay in touch, to come visit, to not be afraid to ask for help if I need it. I will be taking my prized possession with me though – this open, trusting, healthy, whole Jenion that you have all helped me to become. So it comes down to this: I know I’m not the girl I used to be. I trust that I will be able to stay centered within myself even when I am no longer anchored to this place. And I trust that the people, who make this place so important to me, will not disappear from my life like a puff of smoke – I have different, better, coping skills now. One of these is the knowledge that my home is right here in my heart, and it comes with me wherever I go. And those of you who populate my home do too. So I take courage and comfort from the words of the incomparable David Gates:

“Though we may be so far apart, you still would have my heart. So forget your past, my goodbye girl, cause now you’re home at last.”

(Note: for those of you who don’t know the song, here’s a link. It is way too sappy to actually include in the post! The movie is a classic, if you haven’t seen it.)




Thursday, May 23, 2013

23 05 2013

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Jenion, the Many-Handed: Chaos, Time and Change

16 05 2013
Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on. — Buddha
 
Chaos breeds life, when order breeds habit. — Henry Adams
 
When tempest tossed, embrace chaos. — Dean Koontz
 

My house is a shambles. Three times last night I either tripped or stubbed a toe on something that didn’t used to be where it currently is. Junk proliferates, and my vision of orderly packed boxes and neat piles of “to donate”, “to friends”, and “to the dumpster” dissipates. Just being with, and among, this chaos exhausts me before I even begin to work at bringing some order to it in the few hours I’m snatching back from the dinners and coffees that we’re cramming into these “last days”.

Two nights ago, I sat in my living room maniacally sorting through thousands of buttons – feeling like Nero, fiddling while Rome burned.

And that is just on the level of “what am I doing with all my stuff?!” The chaos is threatening to overwhelm me on an emotional level, too. After nineteen years in the same job, seventeen of which have been as a “live in”/”live on” staff member, the process of separation is really strange. For example, I had no trouble parting with files and piles of paper in my office. One day of concerted effort filled both the document destruction bin and several recycling receptacles. On the other hand, I’ve been slow to complete the work that needs doing before I leave – a pared down list of “final” things. Then there’s the commemoration of my longevity and the celebration of my impact on the campus which is sweet, poignant, and at times a little like listening to myself being eulogized. When it feels too surreal, I have to go walkabout – lots of extra visits to the chapel and the coffee shop in order to maintain emotional equilibrium.

In addition to kind words and amazing memories, I routinely get one or the other of these comments: “I’m so jealous” or “Congratulations on your retirement.” Both feel completely understandable while, at the same time, leaving me at a loss for what might be both an appropriate and kind response. By my calculations, and with what all of the prognosticators say about the increasing retirement age, I have a full two decades of work left. So I laugh (if with a slight hysteria) at the retirement comments.

The comments about jealousy are harder. It doesn’t feel like this place I’m in is a somewhere others want to be – uncertain, unknown, unplanned. Frankly, those who are most emphatic about their jealousy are in the best positions to be here without the narrow financial margin I’ll be balancing upon, which makes it incredibly difficult not to call them out – tell them they CAN be here, they just don’t choose to be. On the other hand, I understand their comments – it has been freeing in a manner I can’t describe to have put an end date on this particular stage of my life.

On the other hand…I find myself wanting to use this phrase to begin most sentences these days. The current level of chaos in my life lends itself to so many possibilities, I picture myself looking like one of the many-handed Hindu deities. On one hand, this. On the other hand, that. And on the other, other hand, something entirely different. Interestingly, Kali, the goddess whose name came up when I googled ‘many-handed Hindu deities’ is the goddess of Time and Change. Time feels in short supply right now, while I have a bumper crop of change to manage. And the only way I know how to do that is to lean into it, to borrow a recently popular term.

Leaning in to change, to chaos, can be both a daunting and an empowering experience. Some people have lauded my courage in taking this leap of faith – I feel less courageous and more like I’m whistling in the dark, hence “daunting”. But I do feel empowered, as well. For maybe the first time in my life the choices I am making are not being made out of fear or a need to control things in order to feel safe. I don’t feel safe. But I do feel right, somehow, as if this is the right thing to do at the right time to do it. Which lends a certain peace to the chaos that is my life right now – like the calm in the eye of a tornado or hurricane. The maelstrom is happening, and sometimes I’m whirled up in it and trying to relax enough not to be hurt by the buffeting. But in other moments, I experience the “rightness” at the center. And that feels empowering.

We live in a rainbow of chaos. — Paul Cezanne




Thursday, May 16, 2013

16 05 2013

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My friend, Marty, gave me a piece of advice this week, to watch my weight when I stop working so that I don’t start gaining back the weight I’ve striven to keep off. Unfortunately, I’m more concerned right now with not gaining it all back as we celebrate – on Wednesday morning I counted that I had eaten 6 of the previous 9 meals out. And it shows on the scale. So, I’m going to be a lot more cautious these next couple of weeks!





What Do Adventurous Women Know…and how do I learn it?

9 05 2013

I am a devourer of true life adventure stories by the women who lived them. It started casually, with travel anthologies. Then I discovered Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman and I had a new hero and a new secret passion. Of course Eat.Pray.Love.  More recently, Wild.  And it hasn’t just been books. My friend Wendy and I obsessively watched the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” the summer it came out on DVD (based, if loosely, on a true life adventure story). I’m a sucker for blogs by women on adventures – Travel Destination Bucket List, for example. I began following this blog while its author, Anita Mac, was chronicling her solo trans-Canadian bike journey and have since travelled to Croatia and on pilgrimage to Santiago de Campostella with her. My latest avidly followed blog is My Meandering Trail, where I am following Jordana on her solo through-hike of the Appalachian Trail.

Each of these women have great stories to tell, and they tell them well. And while each gives space in her storytelling to moments of fear or self-doubt, by and large the overriding impression I come away with is of admirable courage, self-efficacy, and joie de vivre. They have moxie, pluck…and whatever other old-fashioned words are reserved for women who have a little something out of the ordinary in their make-up. With my life in transition, my jumping-off point only three weeks away and no firm plan in place yet, I find myself looking to these women and wondering if it might be possible to channel the skills and qualities they embody and which I so desperately need. With that in mind, I’ve identified some things adventurous women seem to know that I’d like to get more conversant with:

Adventurous women know how to manage their stuff

I’m mostly talking actual, as opposed to figurative or emotional, stuff here. These women know how to organize, manage and corral the daily items that fill our lives: furniture, linens, shoes, and tchotchkes. They ruthlessly purge, pack, or otherwise pare down much of what they own in order to begin their adventures unencumbered. So far, I have managed to recycle three small cardboard boxes and shred a pile of old credit card bills. To say “I haven’t hit my stride yet” is to make a prize-winning understatement. Here’s an example: I have a decorative item which was given to me as a gift. It isn’t the kind of thing I’d look at, much less choose to purchase, in a gift-shop. But the person who gave it to me is beloved, and it was given to commemorate a special occasion in my life. In an effort to decide if it is worth packing and hauling to storage, I’ve carted the darn thing into every room multiple times this week. It has surely travelled more miles within my house than the paltry few between here and my storage unit. (Which, by the way, I haven’t actually reserved yet.) And I still can’t decide whether to keep it or put it in the “donate” or “regift” pile. Thankfully, my adventurous friend, Sue, came to visit one evening this week. She walked me through the best ways (and which containers to use) to pack my house. Her advice about what to keep and what to divest myself of: “Be ruthless”. Ruthlessness in the management of stuff – the first thing I need to learn to become an adventurous woman!

Adventurous women don’t hesitate to ask

In the past nineteen years, I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said to me, “I could NEVER do what you do!” Often they follow this comment with something about how they hate conflict. And it’s true – my career has been full of high-conflict, high-stress moments when the issues at hand have been incredibly difficult to navigate. And I am proud of how I’ve handled these difficult situations. But I have a secret to share. In spite of a reputation for direct and honest communication, I cannot make a cold-call to a business to ask questions. Additionally, I am terrible at asking people for help if what I need help with carries an emotional component. Adventurous women are curious, and ask questions because it is part of their nature. Part of how they successfully navigate their courageous lives is their willingness to ask for what they need. How can I plan a whole new more adventurous life when it takes me three days to work myself up to contact storage companies? I think of Jordana, contacting companies to ask for sponsorship of her trip – and getting some awesome support and swag as a result. I definitely need to get me some of those questioning cajones! (Hey, has anyone heard of companies willing to sponsor a middle-aged woman’s career/life change?)

Adventurous women have a specific plan

Well, I’m just plain screwed on this one. I can’t seem to think past vacation, which is the first step of my journey to a new life. I have a vague plan. No specific dates, no specific locations. Just a gut sense that I have to take most of the summer to feel my way – unless right livelihood presents itself. In which case, I’ll know it and change my trajectory.

At this point, my parents and many of my friends are reading this post and beginning to hyperventilate. Please don’t. I am holding enough fear, panic, and fear- and panic-induced motivation at bay to satisfy all of us. But it is back there, behind the voice telling me to take my time. Cheryl Strayed had never tried to lift her backpack until the morning she planned to set off hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Foolhardy? Probably. But did she survive? Hell, yes – even thrived. Sometimes, adventurous women know what they need, and they move toward it even if they haven’t got all the answers in advance. My whole life, I’ve been an answers (and fool-proof assurances) in advance girl. This feels like my opportunity to step forward with trust instead of surety. Eek!

Adventurous women don’t sweat the “solo” part

When I’ve lamented being alone in life, my friend Layne has tried to comfort me by asserting that everyone is just as alone. Her approach is unique; most of my friends try to convince me that I’m not alone because of the large number of people who love me. The truth is, when it comes to making decisions and living the consequences of those decisions, I’m on my own. I have no idea whether it would be easier if I was part of a couple, or if it would be harder. I look at the women whose adventures have inspired me, and I see that they have struggled with the same things – and yet, they’ve found ways to be empowered by the solo nature of their adventures. Empowered because they’ve remained open to meeting new people, to having new experiences, to learning about themselves and the world around them. I’ve lived “smaller” out of fear in the past. One of the things I want to learn from adventurous women is how to live “larger” in spite of the fear. As one blogger says, “I will never be fearless, but I can choose to fear less.”

Adventurous women dare to go “all in”

In every one of the true-life adventure stories I’ve come across, women have let go and jumped in with both feet. For some, this has meant the start of a completely new life. For others, it has been a shining experience which stands out from the ordinary life lived both before and after the adventure. Perhaps my coming adventures are on a smaller scale than selling my home and all my belongings and living the rest of my days as a world-travelling nomad – but they are still a stunning departure from my previous life-choices. My friend, Sara, put it this way for me, “You’re not really the ‘leap of faith’ type, are you? But you’ve been risk-averse for so long, you’ve probably stored up some really good risk karma, so why not use it now?” Not exactly an “all in” mentality – but close enough to get me started!

So, I have my work cut out for me – both with the actual activities associated with leaving my job and my house and with the mental and emotional preparedness for leaving. I’ll figure out the stuff, develop the plan as I go, and remind myself to cultivate curiosity so that asking for things (even if it is only information) gets easier. I’ll continue to be inspired by other women who’ve taken courageous and adventurous paths, hoping that the reality of living with less fear of the “what ifs” will translate into living more completely, more fully. Maybe someday other women will be reading my “true life adventure story” and deciding they can choose differently too. That would be an amazing end to this story, wouldn’t it?! I guess we’ll all have to wait and see what happens with each turn of the page.





Thursday, May 9, 2013

9 05 2013

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